Writer Anne Helen Petersen, who moderates subscriber forums as part of her popular newsletter Culture Study and has hosted two soup-sharing threads, thinks the food encourages an earnestness and a willingness to engage with other people. “You can’t be a bitch when you’re talking about soup,” she says. Both of her soup threads are filled with hundreds of comments—which include a lot of emphatic support for Ottolenghi’s curried lentil soup as well as helpful recipe tweaks to build on cooking basics—posted by people of all ages and backgrounds. “Last year someone made a spreadsheet with all of the soup recipes,” she says. “That kind of thing is very soup girlie.”
Soup Internet sits squarely within a genre of wholesome content that has been steadily growing since the 2016 election, says Don Caldwell, the editor in chief of Know Your Meme, which traces the origins of internet culture. As Kathryn Jezer-Morton, a writer who studies momfluencers, argued in a Substack post about “cozy season” last year, “Coziness has become a powerful social media aesthetic.” She cites a neat, inviting online world of “neutral-toned knits,” “freshly brewed hot drinks,” and flickering candles. It’s all an attempt to offset “the unpredictable reality of the world outside.”
In Caldwell’s mind, our online impulse towards curated coziness is a natural reaction to chaotic times: polarizing politics, skyrocketing inflation, global warming, and a never-ending pandemic, to name a few dark themes. Videos of tantalizing soup recipes and cute baby Yoda memes offer “a way to take a break from all the toxic shit,” he says. Petersen also thinks our love of soup is wrapped up in a desire for security and comfort. “We all want to be ensconced in a blanket, essentially,” she says. A bowl of split pea soup—whether or not you actually make it—is a speedy solace. “Watching somebody make soup is healing too,” Haas argues.
Even saying the word—soup—is a delightful experience. The way your mouth forms a pouty kiss. And the unavoidable tonal uptick when you articulate the bouncy, happy little p on the end, like whoop.
The first ever mention of soup on Twitter happened in March, 2006: “I go to HO foods to get soup for my sick-getting self,” wrote @crystal, one of the platform’s earliest users. You don’t need to know what kind of illness they were fighting to understand why steamy soup felt like the right answer. Forever, a bowl of liquid food has been thought of as medicinal, for all its ability to relieve our ails. The post generated an objectively meh 85 likes, but it offers a snapshot of a primal yearning for coziness—the want to be coddled—that now dominates social media almost two decades later.
By the end of 2020, many of us became versions of Crystal, whether we were actually ill or not. I still wonder what my emotional state would be like if I didn’t have a weekly ritual of pounding edibles and nursing a steamy bowl of Tuscan fish stew, lemon-tortellini soup, or dill-y borscht while I melted into the couch like candle wax.
Put another way: Does the rocketing popularity of soup content also represent a kind of collective cry for help, as Jezer-Morton thinks is true of the cozy aesthetic in general? In the same way a hot shower feels so much better after a day in the snow, maybe soup seems like such a powerful prophylactic right now because it’s just so brutal out there. “You want something that’s going to soothe you from the inside out,” says Molinaro.
The ability to go “soup mode,” as George Costanza coined all those years ago, has become our shared, virtual practice of softness and mush. It might have been a coping method forged amid years of hardship. Or maybe it’s not that deep: It might just be that soup tastes really, really good.